It’s something NHL players and coaches have to live with game in and game out.
That pressure, though, comes in various forms.
Most people associate pressure with the big-name players. Whether it’s Thatcher Demko making the big save for the Vancouver Canucks in a critical moment of the game or Elias Pettersson producing offense, it’s always there.
But there are other forms of pressure that players have to face.
For Canucks defenceman Noah Juulsen, it’s just about maintaining your spot in the lineup. A couple of bad games and Juulsen might be in the press box. A couple of bad weeks and he might be in Abbotsford playing for the Canucks AHL farm team.
One individual who has felt that type of pressure is Canucks color analyst Dave Tomlinson.
Tomlinson spent four seasons shuffling between the NHL and the minors with the Toronto, Winnipeg and Florida organizations in the early 1990s and knows what it’s like to be on the bubble.
“You have to check in on yourself on every single shift and that’s really stressful. It’s an area of the game where if you are a four or five-year veteran, it’s not their concern anymore. They know what they need to do and they find a way to do it. But when you’re a player who’s trying to solidify your spot in the lineup knowing that it’s no secret they’ve been looking for upgrades at your position…well you just feel like every day you’re under the microscope - even in practice - and you have to really find a way to calm your nerves and just play through it,” explained Tomlinson.
Now entering his seventh season as a pro, Juulsen is still trying to establish himself as an NHL regular. A first-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens in 2015, the Surrey-born, Abbotsford-raised 26-year-old is still trying to gain permanent employment.
“For me, it’s just about going day-to-day. Obviously, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. You can’t dwell on the past. Whatever has happened, has happened. I think for me, it’s just enjoying every day. It’s just about having fun out there and being the best player that you can be,” noted Juulsen, whose career-high in games played in an NHL season is the 23 he compiled during his rookie year with the Habs.
Juulsen played in the first three games of this season, then came out of the lineup for the next 11 games before being re-inserted on Nov. 12 in Montreal. He hasn’t come out since.
“He struggled early and sat out a lot of games. For him, it’s about consistency and being able to make the right play under pressure. I think he’s getting better at that. He’s doing a good job on the PK when we’ve asked him to. I think he’s just chipping away at his game to be a consistent defenceman you can rely on every day. That’s really what it comes down to,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet.
Tomlinson believes Juulsen has the tools to be an everyday NHL defenceman who can bring a physical element to the game but it all boils down to doing the little things right.
“The tricky part for a guy like him to stand out is that he has to do things that don’t really get noticed by the general public but do get noticed by the coaching staff. So there’s probably an inner battle of a guy wanting to do everything right and not wanting to make a mistake,” noted Tomlinson.
“And yet that’s a hard way to play because you’re putting so much pressure on yourself to make the right play every single time that you tend to overthink things rather than just making the play that’s right in front of you. And I think that the more chances you get to prove yourself, the more you get to calm your mind down and just play on instinct. And he’s a guy that I think is in that part right now where he’s played enough games that he understands what he needs to do.”
According to Tomlinson, today’s players get way more feedback when it comes to developing their skills.
“Ten years ago, the coach only talked to you when you made a mistake or when you’re getting sent down. Now they talk with you throughout practice on how you can improve. When you’ve got Adam Foote, who sees the game really well from the defensive end, and when you’ve got Sergei Gonchar, who knows the offensive side of playing defense, no player is slipping through the cracks anymore,” explained Tomlinson.
“These players will always be coached up and it’s up to them to make those necessary adjustments or changes that the coaching staff gives them. What we’ve seen so far under Rick Tocchet is that they make sure they’re in contact and in touch with every player every couple of days. No player feels like he’s not been told what his role is. That’s the benefit to this new way of coaching these players, and for a guy like Noah Juulsen, he would get that feedback.”
As for Juulsen, it’s just about sticking to the basics.
“For me, it’s just about keeping it simple. Play a simple game and be physical when a hit’s there - maybe spark the guys a little bit with it and then go from there. Obviously, you don’t want to have those big turnovers and things like that. I think it’s just keeping it simple.
“It’s been the biggest thing for me.”
The Canucks defeated the Minnesota Wild 2-0 on Thursday night and continued their trend of alternating wins and losses in the past 10 games. The club got goals from Nils Hoglander and Teddy Blueger while Casey DeSmith made 26 saves to record his first shutout of the season. DeSmith’s shutout was the first by a Canuck backup goalie since October 24, 2017 when Anders Nilsson shutout the Wild in Minnesota.
The Canucks didn’t record their first shot of the game until 6:42 remained in the first period while the Wild recorded ten shots during that span.
“I don’t look at the shot clock like you guys do. I look at chances. Yeah, they had the puck a lot but I thought we were OK. Early on we were sleeping a little bit, but in the second and the third we played or game,” Tocchet said afterwards.
The organization honored firefighters on Tuesday night and announced its ‘Team 43’ initiative with Canucks’ defenceman Quinn Hughes, who is donating four tickets to every home game to first responders in B.C.
Retiring soccer legend Christine Sinclair was recognized in pre-game ceremonies as well.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.